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High road - low road (05/09/2004)
By Janet Lewis Burns

How can logic expect the next generation to cope with the tangle and turmoil, the traffic jams our lives have become? Heaven on earth experiences seem to be swept away as soon as they alight. Maybe each of us should be more open to the spiritual, taking the path less traveled by. (Join the cow who jumps over the moon!)

Human migration involves a great deal of preparation, because of all the stuff we drag from place to place. In fact, as one ages, we may discover that stresses involved in flying or driving through unfamiliar, foreboding cities, are too overwhelming to pursue...when it's merely quietude and rest that we seek.

Our feathered friends travel light, however. No doubt, they don't bother to stop for sightseeing or potty breaks. Instinct takes migrating bird species to a traditional wintering ground. Along the way, the individual alights at the same barn, that same reed bed, trip after trip.

The barn swallow's hatching place is his destination come spring, even though he may have flown 5,000 miles to the south. By a master plan, the swallow population spreads itself out over the suitable habitat, thus avoiding an imbalance in the natural scheme of things.

There are no welcome mats, no high-fives, nor homecoming hugs to guide the focused traveler back to its family perch year after year. I recall evenings on our deck in August, as we watched the swallows gathering in droves in our neighbor's huge red maple, gearing up for the flight.

The fullness of the tree literally trembled with their twilight serenade. Birds could be seen shifting from one branch to another, reminding me of a bedroom full of kids jumping about, long before settling down. It was amazing that their raucous chirping dropped to a solid silence right at sunset...every night before migration the same.

Eager, I skip along the high road to meet spring's arrival. My body softens and bends to the greeting. Vulnerable, I give over my entire being to all that I don't understand, and praise with humility the width and breadth of all that I do. The thought horrifies me...what if I'm badly mistaken?

My poem "Minnesota Migration" was once published in a CSS Publications newsletter. Taken out of context, it says,

"Advents and expirations.../I lean to Minnesota seasons./Bike paths on Lake Winona/blush with purple loosestrife/where leaves on trees turn silver/in the wind./ From one season to another/all things alive move on/sharing means and ways./Poets stray from beaten paths/in search of deeper meaning/and only other poets/depart to migrate there/leaning - ever leaning."

I can't recall when, or how, my attitude took a ninety-degree flip, to do less and to be more, to ignore the small stuff, to refuse to allow worries to continuously spoil the moment. I no longer choke on the exhaust from spinning my wheels on needless busy work.

I reeled with mischief when I read these lines from 12th - century Persian poet Rumi: "Run from what's profitable and comfortable./If you drink those liqueurs, you'll spill/the springwater of your real life./Forget safety./Life where you fear to live./Destroy your reputation./Be notorious./I have tried prudent planning/long enough. From now/on, I'll be mad."

I really dig that theory! Sadly, I'm too deliberate. I'm intimidated by dead ends. Faltering between the high road and the low road, Zen haiku's enlightenment drops on my zigzagging path:

"When a certain mantra is repeated over and over, it could lose its consonantal edges, and the familiar formula becomes ‘Namandabu' - a rosary bead worn smooth."

"If the mind is agitated, even the most peaceful landscape becomes a scene of confusion. When this happens, all efforts to still the mind merely add to the clamor. How can we escape this terrible hoopla? We can't. Just make your mind enormous."

Whichever road you find yourself traveling, someone is there to let you know that you aren't lost or alone. Just ask for directions. 


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